The Australia Lubricant Association has begun a program aimed at identifying products that do not meet marketing claims and helping suppliers address gaps between the capabilities that they claim and the performance actually provided.
Officials said there is significant need for such work because of the number of lubricants in the market that make invalid performance claims.
“Based on our early investigation, it appears that there is a surprisingly high proportion of products with incorrect claims,” Chief Operating Officer Barry Anchen said during an interview Thursday. “We believe it is in the entire community’s interest to have less of that, and we believe there is a role we can play to help reduce the amount of misinformation.”
The association, which was founded late last year, calls its new program Verification Request. Investigations are triggered when anyone fills out a form raising a question about the performance or marketing claims of a lubricant in the market. The form is reviewed by a verification team consisting of one association board member and one member of the association’s Technical Committee – neither of which may be employed by lubricant marketers. After gathering additional information, the team turns the case over to the Technical Committee, omitting all references to the identify of the marketing company or the individual requesting the investigation.
The Technical Committee investigates to determine whether an invalid performance claim has been made and reports back to the verification team, which seeks approval from the board for any proposed action. In cases where it does discover an invalid claim, Anchen said, the association contacts the marketing company, presents its information and advises how the situation could be addressed. Whatever the outcome, findings are reported back to the requestor.
So far the group has received seven requests, Anchen said, adding that the association does not publicly share information about companies or requestors involved in the cases. Five of those cases led to findings of invalid claims, and the association is following up with the companies in question. In one case the performance claim was deemed valid.
Anchen said the association will develop lessons from its findings and share those with member companies in an effort to help companies ensure that they make only valid performance claims.
After finding claims about multiple products that were invalid on their face, the association undertook a side investigation to review technical data sheets of 300 different products in the market. Sixty percent had claims that were invalid on their face, Anchen said.
“That’s a surprisingly high percentage,” he said, “but it tells us that there is a real need for a program like this.”
The program has already dealt with a variety of issues through a variety of means. The case that concluded with a finding of valid performance claim stemmed from a request by a commercial truck operator who questioned the performance of an engine oil after determining that his tractor-trailer was consuming unexpectedly large amounts of the oil. The association reviewed claims made by the oil’s marketer and commissioned tests at two different laboratories. When the tests found no issues with the oil, the association shared its conclusion with the operator, who is now following up with the truck manufacturer.
In cases that call for engine oil analysis, the association will commission tests for viscosity, cold-crank simulation, total base number and elemental analysis.
Another case involved a farm tractor transmission fluid found that reportedly was also recommended for use in the crankcase of a back-end loader. The association contacted three additive companies, each of which said they were unaware of products that could serve both functions. The association relayed this information to the marketer, which explained that its claims were based on information from its additive supplier. The association investigated and found that the marketer’s additive company was indeed publicizing that the transmission fluid could be used as a crankcase oil in an emergency. After discussions between the parties, the additive company withdrew that recommendation.
Multiple cases involve engine oils that are promoted as meeting ACEA engine oil specifications (from the European Automobile Manufacturers Association) that are known to be mutually exclusive. Anchen said the Australian association is reaching out to ACEA in hopes that it can offer direct communications links between the European group and Australian marketers.
Anchen said most marketers seem willing to engage with the association when contacted about invalid claims, but there are exceptions. He has tried to contact one company several times this year, he said, but received no responses. The program currently does not provide for any punitive steps if a marketer refuses to address invalid claims, but the group may soon add a provision for it to inform the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, a government regulator, about such cases.
“There are mixed feelings in our industry about this,” Anchen said. “Some are saying, no we should not do that kind of thing, but there’s also an argument that we should not just let companies claim things that are incorrect.
“This association is not here to undermine any [businesses] or flag to the community not to buy from a certain company. We want to work with them and be a resource. But if we find companies thumbing their noses as us, we have to have a way to take some kind of action.”